Sunday, July 26, 2009

SF Jewish Film Festival Audience Jeers Pro-Israel Speaker but Cheers for Ahmedinejad

The controversy about the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's invitation to Cindy Corrie hit a fever pitch this week. An editorial in "j", our local community newspaper, endorsed the same opinion previously expressed here. In addition, the president of the SFJFF board resigned and two prominent local foundations issued a stinging criticism of the Film Festival's decision to invite Mrs. Corrie.

But things were to get even more interesting. I was personally invited by Peter Stein, the executive director of the SFJFF, to make a brief statement prior to the film to discuss why many of us objected to this program. While I knew that this would be a hostile audience, I didn't anticipate objections from many dedicated activists within the pro-Israel community who felt that this would let the Film Festival off the hook by allowing them to claim that they had "balanced" the program. However, StandWithUs fully supported this appearance, realizing that this was a unique opportunity to present our viewpoint, even knowing that the majority of the audience would be hostile.

And everything that happened yesterday was exactly as anticipated. Not only had the event's co-sponsors, Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee, sent out appeals to their members to show up in force, but Cindy Corrie herself sent out a similar e-mail. So the crowd's reaction was no surprise, and you can see it for yourself here.

The film, of course, was utterly lacking in context. One brief mention that the IDF teams were looking for explosives-smuggling tunnels. No mention of the terror war. An interesting point near the end of the film when an Israeli anarchist from Jaffa is interviewed-- he talks about resistance and a few other similar phrases about idealism, then said that some of the words don't translate well into Hebrew-- the audience laughed at that line.

Peter Stein didn't ask any hard questions of Cindy Corrie-- it was a total softball interview. He did ask her what she thought of the controversy here, she said it surprised her, talked about some of the Jewish community supporting her the first time that the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie was pulled from the theater in New York. She thinks it has less to do with her appearance than with discussions in the Jewish community about Israel, and those whose allegiance to Israel "leads them to support the status quo".

She took maybe 3 questions from the audience, each devolved into about a 10-15 minute answer, everything of course building on the sympathy factor. She did not address any specific political issues except that as far as the investigation into her daughter's death she was told by US officials that she will never get anyone in the US gov't to agree to investigate this fully, because it involves Israel.

I did not get to ask her the question I wanted to ask, which was as follows:

"Mrs Corrie, I'm sure you and I agree that too many people have died in this conflict. We all want peace, but some of us have different concepts of what "peace" means. My concept is that of a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and mutual recognition. What is YOUR concept of peace?"

I don't know what her answer would be; but, based on the responses to my talk, I know what the audience's answer is. So the question that needs to be asked of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is this:

If you are attracting an audience that jeers a pro-Israel speaker, and cheers not only for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel but also at the mention of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, is that the kind of programming that is appropriate for a JEWISH Film Festival?

The full text of my remarks is below.

The Jewish Film Festival is an important cultural institution in our community. Yet, as Peter noted, this year there has been an uproar from not only our local Jewish community, but also from Jewish communities around the country and overseas, over the Film Festival’s choice of this film and speaker.

My presence here should in no way be considered as either endorsing, or even adequately balancing, this event. These few minutes cannot in any way provide an appropriate response to the next two hours.

I came here today to give voice to a different perspective—the perspective of the wider spectrum of the Bay Area and global Jewish communities, including our own community institutions such as the Jewish Community Relations Council, and ‘J”, our community’s newspaper which voiced strong concerns about today’s program, and including the respected Taube and Koret Foundations which have expressed strong opposition to this program as being inappropriate for a Jewish Film Festival.

All of us here know that Rachel Corrie tragically died when she intentionally put herself in harm’s way during an IDF counter-terrorism operation in the Gaza Strip. But many of us don’t know the names of other young American victims—Abigail Leitel, a 14 year old Baptist girl from New Hampshire, murdered when a suicide bomber blew up a bus in Haifa on March 5, 2003. David Gritz age 24, Benjamin Blutstein age 25 and UC Berkeley student Marla Bennett, age 24, all murdered on July 31, 2002 by a suicide bomber in the cafeteria at Hebrew University.

And there are Israeli Rachels. Rachel Levy, age 17, was murdered in Jerusalem on March 29, 2002 by a suicide bomber. Rachel Thaler, age 16, died Feb 27 2002 as a result of injuries when a suicide bomber exploded himself in the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem 11 days earlier. And there are more—too many more—Israeli Rachels.

And none of them were engaged in anything more risky than riding a bus, or going to buy a slice of pizza or a cup of coffee. And, just as Rachel Corrie should be alive today, so should all of these young men and women.

They were all murdered before Rachel Corrie came to Gaza. That’s why the young IDF soldier was operating that bulldozer in Rafah. It wasn’t to wantonly destroy Palestinian homes. It was to destroy the tunnels used to smuggle explosives for murdering Israelis—tunnels that even now, the so-called “Free Gaza” members proudly boast of touring and photographing.

The International Solidarity Movement recruited Rachel Corrie at the height of the terror war and instructed her to ignore IDF security warnings. You will hear that they are a peace group. You won’t hear that ISM defined peace in a 2003 press conference as the destruction of Zionism and the Jewish State. You will hear that ISM supports non-violence. You won’t hear that ISM collaborates with terrorists, including Hamas, and even aided the terrorists who took over the Church of the Nativity in 2002. Nor will you hear that ISM leaders called suicide bombing “noble” and that they support terrorism as ”legitimate armed struggle.”

And, as ISM co-founder George Rishmawi said, “If some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” They have used Rachel’s accidental death to accuse Israel of intentionally murdering innocents.

You will hear Israel’s counter-terrorism measures demonized, but not why they were necessary. You won’t hear about the organized, savage suicide bombing war that Palestinians unleashed against Israel in 2000-- a war that murdered over 1000 Israelis (mostly civilians) and wounded over 7,000 others, using bombs filled with razor blades, nails and rat poison; a war fought not for a Palestinian state that Arafat had already rejected, but against Israel's very existence.

And you will not hear about another foreign volunteer who was killed near Gaza. Carlos Chavez, a 20-year-old from Ecuador, was shot in the back while he planted potato seeds at a communal farm in Israel, about 100 meters from the Gaza border. His murder occurred on Jan. 15, 2008—2.5 years after Israel had completely withdrawn from Gaza. His crime was simply being in the state of Israel; the same crime for which the Hamas charter threatens all Israeli Jews with death.

You won’t hear about the incessant, anti-Semitic incitement that pervades Palestinian media, schools, and mosques, instilling hatred of Jews, celebrating those who kill them as heroes and martyrs, and denying Israel’s very right to exist. You won’t hear about the founding document of Hamas, which they still stand by today, and which openly calls for the murder of Jews everywhere. I have copies of excerpts from their charter right here, but it’s easy to find online. You won’t hear about the 8,000 rockets that have been launched into from Gaza into Israel, a small country just the size of New Jersey. You won’t hear about a Palestinian leadership that has failed its people miserably by using the billions they have received in foreign aid to build bombs and rockets, rather than schools and hospitals.

This episode should lead to some serious and thoughtful discussion about the role, and the responsibility, that a JEWISH Film Festival should take within our community. A Jewish Film Festival should not be presenting a film and speaker that demonize Israel, and that are being co-sponsored and promoted by groups, such as Jewish Voice for Peace and American Friends Service Committee, that support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, or, as AFSC did, host dinner for Mahmoud Ahmedinejad;-- —or perhaps even attract an audience that would applaud that.

No mother should have to bury her child—not Cindy Corrie, not Marla Bennett’s mother Linda, and not Carlos Chavez’ mother Gloria de las Mercedes. As you watch this film and hear from Rachel’s mother, remember how much context is completely missing from the film. Above all, remember the mothers of all the other Rachels as well, and the price they have had to pay simply for being Jews living in the only Jewish country in the world. Thank you very much.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Berkeley Daily Planet-- The Beginning of the End?

Even its name is misleading- the Berkeley Daily Planet hasn't been a daily as long as I can remember. In the past I'd been known to pick it up occasionally, whenever I felt the need for a liberal dose of outrage and anti-Israel hate speech with my morning coffee and croissant. The lack of editorial control or constraint has been well documented, leading me to wonder if Becky O'Malley's business model is "I don't care what they say as long as they are talking about me".
As the paper grew more and more narcissistic (who can forget 8 articles in one issue devoted purely to ad hominem attacks on local critics?), many locals, myself included, have given up on it. The Berkeley Daily Planet is making the local Pennysaver seem like a journalistic triumph.

While its clearly too early to sound the death knell for the Daily Planet, its final days may be near. The Planet, in the time honored tradition of other free papers, has always been distributed via newsboxes scattered throughout Berkeley. They'll be phasing out this system and instead stocking their little fishwrap in "select" cafes in the future. If you feel the need to see Berkeley public opinion reflected as an obsession with Israel-bashing, then for a 2 dollar "donation" you can find the Planet at the following establishments (all Berkeley except as noted otherwise):

Nabolom Bakery 2708 Russell St
Mo’ Joe Cafè 2517 Sacramento St
The Vault Cafe and Restaurant 3250 Adeline St
The Berkeley Art Center 1275 Walnut St
Roxie Delicatessen, 2999 Shattuck Ave
Pegasus and Pendragon Bookstores, 1855 Solano Ave and 2349 Shattuck Ave
Local 123, 2049 San Pablo Ave
Jumpin Java, 6606 Shattuck Ave, Oakland
Sonoma Cafe 2131 Durant Ave
33 Revolutions Record Shop & Cafe´, 10086 San Pablo Avenue El Cerrito

Those of us who want a local paper responsive to the needs of the community urge you to talk to the owners of these fine establishments. It's time for an intervention. Tell them you want a real local paper- one that emphasizes informed discussion of local issues, and not a disproportionate focus on one issue that far too often devolves into hate speech. Tell them that by carrying the Planet, they are rewarding incompetence and lack of journalistic integrity.

We are NOT suggesting that you boycott these stores; actually, going in and buying a cup of coffee there will make your suggestion that much more valid (after all, you ARE a customer!). And, just as importantly, we condemn any type of theft of the paper-- even if you ARE desperate for lining for your hamster cage.

And consider signing the petition against hate speech in what used to be a newspaper that actually served the local community.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Hosts Cindy Corrie: What's Wrong with This Moving Picture?

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is no stranger to controversy. After a 2005 lineup featuring a host of anti-Israel films capped by Arna's Children , a number of Israel advocates (including this writer) met with Peter Stein, the executive director of the SFJFF and Nancy Fishman, the program director, to express our concerns. Although we were given the chance to express our concerns, we didn't think there was much of a hearing given to them. However, to our pleasant surprise, the next 3 SFJFF lineups were free of films that would have more properly been screened at an Arab film festival (as indeed Arna's Children had been shown at the 2004 San Francisco Arab film festival).This year, however, the SFJFF has chosen to screen "Rachel", a film examining the tragic death of Rachel Corrie, the young woman who was run over by an IDF bulldozer while trying to interfere with an anti-terrorist operation in the Gaza Strip. Her death has been exploited by anti-Israel groups and has become the subject of a controversial play "My Name is Rachel Corrie". But more than just showing the film itself (which was made by an Israeli filmmaker), the SFJFF has invited Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, to speak after the film. Cindy and her husband Craig have appeared at numerous events hosted by the International Solidarity Movement (the Palestinian-led "nonviolent" terror support network for which Corrie was volunteering) and other anti-Israel groups. The film festival organizers obviously knew that this was going to create controversy and they have pre-emptively put up a statement on their website-- which of course couches their decision in the language of artistic freedom and "democratic exchange of ideas" and "spirited debate". They do, appropriately, cite other films they are showing that do provide other perspectives on Israel's struggle against terror: "Gilad Shalit: Two Years in Captivity" and "Chronicle of a Kidnap" about Karnit Goldwasser, the widow of IDF solider Ehud Goldwasser who was kidnapped from Israel and subsequently killed by Hezbollah in 2006. But for the Corrie film , the only voice that will be heard is that of Cindy Corrie. What then, after all, is the sound of one person debating?

While the film itself, given its provenance in Israel, may be a defensible choice for the festival, the appearance of Cindy Corrie is not. The letter below summarizes the issue quote nicely (thanks to Art A. for allowing me to reprint his letter here). Please send your own comments (do NOT simply cut and paste: use your own words!) to Peter Stein at and Nancy Fishman at Keep in mind that after 2005, when approached with legitimate community concerns presented respectfully but honestly, the SFJFF did appear to be appropriately responsive.

Peter Stein & Nancy Fishman
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
July 3, 2009
Re: Your Upcoming Rachel Corrie Event

You are advertising a film festival event this summer where you will show a movie on the topic of Rachel Corrie, and offer a speaking opportunity for Rachel Corrie's mother. I suspect that you now realize - perhaps belatedly - that this will be a political event, not an artistic one. It will be a one-sided anti-Israel propaganda piece disguised as theatre.

I have read the explanatory essay you provide accompanying the advertising of the event. Clearly you are aware of the sensitivity of this topic, but not sufficiently concerned. There will be no speaker at this event to provide the Israeli perspective on this situation. Even if there were, how can even a well-informed speaker compete with the drama of a propaganda film plus a heart-breaking speech by a mother that has lost her daughter? Will there be a discussion of the misinformation and training provided by ISM that led Rachel to place herself in harm's way?

Several comments in your essay are illuminating:1. You say about Rachel Corrie's mother: "Her appearance at SFJFF is not intended to provide a political platform but rather to deepen the dialogue around the film". Are you aware that Cindy Corrie is a favorite on the speaker circuit for anti-Israel hate groups? Groups like Sabeel love to present her. She does not present a balanced perspective on this topic, to say the least.
2. You say: "The filmmaker considers herself a film essayist rather than a reporter and desires the film to be viewed as an artistic statement as well as an investigation."You are saying that the filmmaker does not hold herself to the standards of accuracy of a reporter because this is an "artistic statement". Doesn't this suggest that you know this session is not going to be fair to Israel?
3. You say: "We ... want our audience to have the benefit of a direct encounter with those who can help them understand Rachel Corrie's motivations "even if they don't agree with them." Why? Do you know ANYONE who does not understand what Rachel was taught about Israel and why she was helping ISM block the IDF?
Bottom Line: It is not a secret that the purpose of the film "Rachel" is to demonize Israel, not to "deepen dialogue". The purpose of appearances by Rachel Corrie's mother is always to demonize Israel. The lack of a speaker to respond to the accusations ensures that this event will demonize Israel.
What to do now that you seem to be committed to this event? a. Find someone sharp, educated and well prepared to respond to the charges during the post session. Such a speaker should have seen the film in advance and be familiar with the substance of Cindy Corrie's stock presentation. b. Post or hand out flyers on the topic of Rachel Corrie found at:
Given that this is a political event, not a "film festival" event, the question for you now is how to appear even handed. c. Carefully examine how this happened. Who on your staff or board advocated for a one-sided politically driven session?As you can imagine, I will not be able to support the film festival this year. Maybe I'll see you in 2010.
Art A., San Carlos, California

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Hypocrisy of Richard Silverstein, part 2, or "How Dare the Jews Write Back"

Its getting to the point where I half expect to see Richard Silverstein’s photo in my Webster’s dictionary under "hypocrisy".

His latest missive: " Israel's foreign ministry organising to flood news websites with pro-Israeli comments " should be subtitled "How dare the Jews write back."

He states " You always hear about Israeli attempts at media manipulation. ", and yes, we do , Richard. We hear all about those Jews who control the media and Congress and Hollywood. We hear it all the time. And yes, Richard usually it’s the Zionists or Israelis as code words for "Jew". But we know what they mean. They’ve been saying it for years. Didn’t we hear about it in the Protocols first?

What we don’t hear about are the attempts from the other side. On his own blog, Richard issues a call to flood Israeli ministries with calls and email in support of FGM (isn’t that Female Genital Mutilation, Richard? Sure you want to use THAT acronym?) Yet when he does it, its not a shameless attempt to influence policy or distort public opinion. When Jewish Voice for Peace , frantic that the Free Gaza publicity stunt rendered so little publicity sent out a plea to thousands, begging them to write and call to " keep the media focused on this matter", Richard didn't condemn this. The plea contained an embedded hyperlink, with an automatic letter to the editor generator! And Richard says the Israelis are "orchestrating propaganda efforts designed to flood news websites" . Richard, don’t you think JVP’s automatic letter generator distorts "the balance and tone of the discussion with their programmed arguments" ? Somehow, I don’t expect you’ll be complaining about it on your blog any time soon.

In Richard Silverstein’s skewered world view Israel’s attempts to inform the public and news media of the reality on the ground is "favorable flackery" and is a vain attempt to tilt public opinion toward Israel. I'd call it speaking truth to power.

And speaking of "outright propaganda"- that does Israel a "disservice" , did you know, Richard, that in the "apartheid" state of Israel, a Muslim woman, Dr. Suheir Assady, was recently appointed as the new head of the Nephrology Department at Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa? Dr. Assady is the the first Muslim woman to be directing a large medical department in an Israeli hospital. Yep. I bet thats just the just the kind of information that offends you, Richard, simply because its true.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Ship of fools: Free Gaza sails again.

On Monday June 29 Free Gaza's latest ship of fools, "Spirit of Humanity" set sail from Cyprus with a false ships manifest, listing its destination as Egypt. That was just the first in a series of lies.

The next lie was sent via press release from spokesperson Greta Berlin: claiming the ship "carries three tons of medical aid, children's toys, and rehabilitation and reconstruction kits for twenty family homes.", in direct contrast with their twitter account which stated "We left this morning, one boat, 21 passengers, 20 olive trees, one symbolic bag of cement" .

The boat was intercepted by Israeli authorities and an immediate cacophony of emails and press releases were sent out calling for a phone and email blasts to Israeli and American officials. The squeals invariably had the theme " Free the 'kidnapped peace activists' who are just trying to give hope to the starving children of Gaza"

The reality is there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and there are no starving children. Aid continues to flow through the crossings. This year alone over 366,282 tons of aid and over 45.693 million liters of fuel have been delivered to the Gaza Strip. Just last week, 674 truckloads (16,323 tons) of humanitarian aid were transferred to the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal and the Karni conveyor belt. In addition to food, medicine and hygiene products, games, basketballs and balloons, trampolines and swimming pools, generators, air-conditioning accessories, clothing, shoes and hats, chairs, mattresses and Styrofoam cups; and raw materials for paper production were all transported into Gaza.

Basketballs and balloons. Swimming pools and trampolines. Oh those brutal and genocidal Israelis!!! Oh, those poor suffering Gazans!

If there is no humanitarian crisis why is Free Gaza working so hard to open the sea route to Gaza? Its certainly not cost effective to transport 20 trees this way. Could it be perhaps that its getting harder and harder to smuggle Iranian weapons via land? Its so much more efficient to go the sea route, if only those pesky Israelis would stop defending their borders. Could Free Gaza be trying to smooth the way for a new Karine A?

In 2002, Israel intercepted the Gaza bound Karine A at sea with 50 tons of Iranian and Russian-made weapons - long-range Katyusha rockets and mortar bombs, LAW anti-tank missiles, Sagger anti-tank missiles, mines, sniper rifles, ammunition and more than two tons of high explosives hidden in a cargo of rice, clothes and toys. Sound familiar?

The sad reality remain that until there is a true and lasting peace, checkpoints save lives on both sides of the conflict. And saving lives should be our priority. We all look forward to a day with out the threat of violence, of open borders and crossings. But until the day comes when Israel can live in peace, she needs to live with security. And Israel must control her own borders.